These Natural Disasters Can Occur in Oregon! Are You Prepared?

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Oregon is one of the most scenic and green states in the country. The state is comprised of diverse landscapes including mountains, evergreen forests, deserts, aspen groves, and stunning shorelines. 

Oregonians are very conscious about their health and the well-being of others, animals, and the environment. The state has a major recycling movement, a strong farmland community, and in some places, there are more bikes than cars. 

Portland specifically is known for being a hub of veganism and vegetarianism. The city is also popular for its love of coffee and food trucks. 

The Beaver State is a nature lover’s dream but the beauty comes at the exchange of the state’s drastic range of climates and natural disasters. In this article, we’ll explore those in greater detail.

What natural disasters does Oregon have?

Oregon’s most common natural disasters include wildfires, severe storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, winter storms, tsunamis, power outages, and landslides. Another disaster that is a much smaller threat is volcanoes.  

Between 1953 and 2019, Oregon declared 88 major disasters, of which fires and severe storms happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

1. Wildfires

Oregon is prone to wildfires as a result of its hot summer climate, long-term droughts, thunderstorms, severe wind storms, prescribed fires that have gone out of control, human neglect, and arson.

It is estimated that over one-third of the state’s population is currently living in an area with an elevated risk of fires. 

Fire fighters respond to an annual average of 2,000 fires in the state. The peak season begins in June and lasts through August, however in previous years it seems that they’re becoming a threat year-round. 

For instance, the 2021 wildfire season began in May. As of the middle of July, the state had recorded more than 1,000 wildfires with over half a million acres burned. Thanks to high levels of precipitation in September, the wildfire season finally came to an end. 

One of the largest fires in recent years was the Biscuit Fire that occurred in 2002. It burned nearly half a million acres.

If you live in Oregon, you must become prepared for wildfires. In this guide, you can find mitigation strategies to safeguard your home in order to reduce the risk of property damage, as well as key information on how to stay safe amid a fire. Learn more here.

2. Severe Storms

Much like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon experiences severe weather in the form of thunderstorms and lightning, heavy precipitation, strong wind, and hail.

The region east of the Cascades averages 12 to 15 stormy days per year, whereas the region to the west of the mountain range only averages about 4 or 5 days. 

High winds and hail are possible but they rarely cause damage to the point that it becomes destructive. Hail storms occur most in the region that is east of the Cascade Mountains, but they’re not too common. 

The biggest threats are lightning and heavy rain. The state experiences 10 to 15 thunderstorms annually. Lightning strikes are largely responsible for the wildfires that start in mountain areas.

Intense rainfall, especially after long dry spells, causes rivers to swell quickly and lead to flash floods and localized flooding. 

The best way to be prepared for a storm is to be informed of the current weather forecast.

Thunder is accompanied by lighting, so be sure to take refuge indoors until the storm has fully passed to prevent becoming a target of lightning. Check out this guide to ensure you're prepared. 

Tip: In extreme weather events, you should also be prepared for power outages.

3. Floods

Oregon is made up of 55 rivers and around 33,000 streams that extend to more than 106,000 miles. It's no surprise that one of types of disasters the state faces is floods.

Two major contributors to flooding in the Beaver State are heavy localized or consistent precipitation and rapid snowmelt. The late spring and early summer months pose a high risk of floods for this reason. 

Coastal flooding due to tsunamis and storm surge are also risks to consider. An average of 9,000 households located in coastal areas are at risk of flooding. This number is projected to almost double by the next thirty years. 

The state has experienced several significant floods. 

  • The Heppner Flash Flood of June 2, 1903, was the deadliest natural disaster in Oregon history. A severe summer thunderstorm wiped out a large part of Heppner, a rural farming community, and led to the loss of life of 247 people.

  • The Willamette Valley Flood of 1996 began around late January and lasted until mid-February. A combination of factors, such as abnormal levels of rainfall, heavy snowfall, and rapid snowmelt led many of the rivers to reach their crest level.

    No one expected a flood of such magnitude to happen in such a short amount of time. Within hours, the waters overtook entire cities while sweeping everything along its path, including people. Eight casualties were recorded. 

To prepare for a flood, you should know what your risk level is first. If you live near streams, rivers, or the coast, you may want to look into your flood insurance options.

You should also have preparedness measures in place if an unprecedented storm prompts a flash flood warning or evacuation orders. 

In the event of flash flooding, find higher ground immediately and never cross flood waters.

Our flood preparedness guide provides insight on how to mitigate damage, as well as how to stay safe before, during, and after a flood.

Check it out here and remember to print the free checklist at the end of the article!

4. Drought

Oregon doesn’t experience many days with dangerously high temperatures, however, it’s prone to dry summers and long periods of drought.

One of the longest periods of drought in the state lasted more than 5 years. It began in December 2011 and lasted through February 2017. 

Currently, the Beaver State is experiencing low water levels and consequently similar extreme drought conditions. As of the writing of this article, over 25% of the state is under D4 (exceptional drought), over 46% is under D3 (extreme drought), 23% is under D2 (severe drought), and the very little remaining 5% is under D1 (moderate drought). 

Extreme heat, dry weather, and droughts pose many problems for the economy and increase the severity of natural disasters like wildfires and flash floods.

It’s important to learn how to be water-wise and conserve during such occasions.

5. Earthquakes

The Beaver State is traversed horizontally by mountains and a series of around twelve fault zones.

The largest of these is the Cascade subduction zone which extends more than 700 miles from south to north. This fault region produces a major earthquake every 450 or so years. 

Apart from the Cascade subduction zone, there are other fault zones of concern, such as the East Bank Fault, the Portland Hills Fault, and the Oatfield Fault. These lie near Portland and are expected to create catastrophic levels of damage if they rupture. 

Oregon experiences several earthquakes each year but they tend to be of small magnitude. That’s not to say that a severe earthquake isn’t possible. The largest earthquake recorded in the state occurred on November 23, 1873, and had a magnitude of 6.75. 

Your safety is of utmost importance during (and after) an earthquake. It’s recommended that you practice safety protocols, such as the safest places to take cover, and how to determine if it’s safe to remain inside the home or building (or whichever structure you find yourself at). 

This guide will answer those questions for you, as well as give you insights for mitigating damage and recommendations for essential items that should be in your emergency kits. Read more about that here. 

6. Winter Storms

Due to its geographic location and topography, Oregon’s winter weather varies considerably.

The high-altitude regions, like the Cascade, Blue, and Wallowa mountain ranges, receive the most snow whereas other parts of the state, like Portland, have mild winters and receive snow once every few years.  

Low temperatures are experienced state-wide during the winter months, especially between December and March. Icy roads are common several times a year and pose a great danger to commuters.

One of the worst blizzards in the state occurred in 1969 on the night of Christmas Eve. Powerful winds and heavy snowfall left people stranded in their homes for nearly six days. 

While a severe winter storm happens occasionally, it’s important to be prepared for extreme cold and future natural disaster events.

In our winter prep guide, you can learn which supplies recommend you keep in your home and car for winter storm emergencies.

7. Tsunamis

Coastal storms and tsunamis are a major disaster threat to the communities along the Oregon coast. 

Tsunamis in the state have been primarily linked to earthquakes. If a significant earthquake rattles the Cascadia region, it could produce tsunami waves on the Pacific Ocean within minutes.

If a powerful quake shakes other areas, like Alaska or Japan, then Oregon can anticipate tsunami waves to reach their shore within a few hours.

The Beaver State has experienced 21 tsunamis since 1854. Of those, the most damaging ones occurred as a result of the Great Alaska Earthquake (in 1964) and the Great East Japan Earthquake (in 2011).

Coastal communities should identify several evacuation routes prior to a tsunami warning.

Although a lot of warning time is not guaranteed before a tsunami occurs, there are signs you can look out for that should prompt you to get to high ground immediately.

One of those signs, for example, is when the water at the beach recedes significantly. You can expect the wave to follow (or about to follow) to be huge. 

In this article, you’ll learn other signs to look out for and how you can stay safe if a tsunami occurs.

8. Power Outages

We live in a world majorly powered by electricity. Many of the things we do or use in our day-to-day require electricity to some degree.

Unfortunately, the vulnerability of the power lines we rely so heavily on puts us at risk of long-term outages.

The average duration of an outage in the state is 4 hours, but it could be longer depending on how long it takes the power company to restore it.

One of the longest outages in Oregon occurred during the ice storm in the Willamette Valley in February 2021. More than 330,000 customers were left in the dark for up to three days. 

When preparing for natural disasters, we should also be preparing for power outages. 

One of the best ways to ensure that your plan is going to work is to test it. Pick a day or weekend with your family and turn off the electricity to your house.

For that period of time, use only the items you have on hand that don't require electrical equipment, as well as the items in your emergency kit. 

By the end of this experience, you’ll have better insight into which items worked well, which ones didn’t work at all, and which ones you need to add to your kit. 

Check out this complete guide on power outage preparedness for more information.

9. Landslides

Oregon is highly vulnerable to landslides. The state has more than 3,750 mountains, 128 miles of ocean cliffs, and countless steep slopes.

The entire coast, as well as certain parts of central Oregon, have the highest incidence of such events, most of which are triggered by intense precipitation.

The state reports an estimated $10 million of annual costs as a result of landslides.

The first step in becoming prepared is to learn about your community and home’s risk level. If there are vulnerable slopes within your property, it’s important to have them strengthened. 

If there are areas within your community that are landslide-prone, determine alternate routes that can get you around town without trouble.

In our landslide preparedness guide, you will find valuable information for damage prevention and mitigation, as well as safety tips.

10. Volcanoes

Part of the Cascade Mountain Range is situated in Oregon. This mountain range is made up of around 20 major volcanoes and more than 4,000 volcanic vents.

The majority of Oregon’s volcanoes are dormant, meaning that they haven’t erupted in a very long time but they may erupt sometime in the future.

The last eruption in the state occurred at Mt.Hood between 1856 and 1866. Mt.Hood is known for experiencing long quiet periods (oftentimes centuries) between volcanic eruptions. 

In any case, if you’re living near the Cascade Range, it’s recommended that you have an emergency kit handy if volcanic activity develops and prompts evacuations or shelter-in-place mandates.

In this guide, you can learn about our must-have items for volcano preparedness kits, as well as how to stay safe from ash, hazardous materials, and volcanic debris.

Natural disaster resources for Oregon

Oregon is a beautiful place that is vulnerable to several types of natural disasters.

To become fully prepared, be sure to take advantage of the following available information. 

  • If you’re looking for an easy way to get notified of possible dangerous weather, look no further than the National Weather Service App (NOAA Weather Radio).

    All alerts will get sent to the device the app is downloaded on, so be sure to keep that device charged if you want to receive real-time updates. 

  • The effects of disasters are inherently different. Being prepared for them is key for your peace of mind and that of your family members. 

    We want to save you as much time as possible in researching the do’s and don’ts of all disasters, so we’ve made comprehensive yet concise and easy-to-follow guides for each type of disaster.

    Learn safety tips, mitigation strategies, and much more. Find all of our disaster guides here. 

  • Disaster preparedness is an intense topic and there’s much to cover. Reading countless articles online may feel overwhelming for some of you, which is why you may enjoy becoming a part of emergency organizations.

    CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) is run by the federal government (FEMA). They provide free in-person classes and simulations to help you become better prepared and put your knowledge to the ‘test’. Learn more about CERT and find your local group here.

  • Disasters can affect anyone, but it takes a community to stand together and help those in need. Oregon’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) does exactly that. When a disaster occurs, VOAD helps to assess the needs of the affected community.

    Then, they reach out to neighboring communities to see who can provide resources to cover those needs. This is an amazing way to get involved, especially if you have a business or organization that can offer supplies, manpower, or anything else for that matter. Connect with the Oregon VOAD here.

    A few other disaster relief organizations to consider are the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. They offer support to communities in need during the critical period of recovery. 

  • Disaster aid varies by state. If you’re looking for assistance recovering from or preparing for a disaster, check out the Oregon Office of Emergency Management’s website.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the disasters that affect Oregon. 

We created an in-depth natural hazards mitigation plan and preparedness plan to help you in your planning process.

It includes guides, templates, checklists, and action items that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!

Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here! 

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